Some thoughts on “bias”

I engaged in some good-natured banter with some friends on FB recently, and it was all in good fun. But the subject of bias came up, and it got me thinking.

Were I to be accused of bias, it certainly would not be of the Trumpian sort. After all, I do not believe that supply is the driver of economic growth, or that it’s good long-term tax policy to skew more wealth upwards and blow up the national debt, or that completely unregulated and uninspected markets involving food, medicine, or even financial products are the way to prosperity. I don’t believe that minorities are the oppressors and the majority is oppressed and aggrieved. I don’t believe that Bob Mueller is a flaming liberal stooge, or that our entire federal law enforcement and intelligence community constitutes an anti-American enterprise known (cue menacing music here) as “The Deep State.” Etc., etc. In other words, I’m not an ignoramus.

So I guess this marks me with a “liberal bias.” But I have noticed something in my earthly travels. There are many things that I used to believe (even as an adult, so I’m not talking about the Easter Bunny here) that I no longer believe. There are also things that I used to not believe that now I do believe (as, for example, that the United States is susceptible to authoritarian rule—something I used to believe was unlikely if not impossible given our history and institutions). I often will cease to believe something even if it was a convenient thing for me to believe, and I have come to beliefs that are decidedly inconvenient for me to believe. I do this in the face of what I call evidence.

To the extent that I argue over ideology, I’m usually arguing with someone who appears still to believe what he or she has always believed; and such arguments usually end with my knowing that the person with whom I’ve engaged will always believe what he or she believes now, which is what he or she wants to believe, because believing it is convenient. So who is biased here, anyway? The person whose beliefs change with evidence, or the person whose beliefs are anchored in place for all eternity?

If bias means wedded to preconceived and inflexible dogmas, then I rather think it is the creationist crowd that is biased, not the evolutionary biologist. One of my best friends is an evolutionary biologist, and if he’s reading this I’m sure he’ll correct me if I misstate this: as far as I can tell, he is able to set conditions in a lab in such a way that he (and anyone else who cares to look) can watch evolution happen in a petri dish. When a mind corrupted by literalist Biblicism beholds such evidence and rejects it despite it being right there to see, who is biased? Does my friend, who “believes in” evolution (as do I) harbor some “liberal bias”?

Am I biased to believe that 98% of the world’s climate scientists ought to be heeded? Do I have a biased view of our political and philosophical underpinnings when I say that I don’t believe that governments were instituted among humans to decide who may marry whom or what kind of sex consenting adults may enjoy with one another? I have tried my best to think about these things, not merely to believe what I wish or, worse yet, what some mindless dogmatist has told me I must believe. So I ask again, am I biased?

We might spend less time discerning who is “liberal” and who is “conservative” and more time asking simply, whose view is more consistent with the weight of the evidence and sound reasoning? By this standard, Trumpism is usually on shaky ground—shaky on a tectonic level.

-bb

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